Devices like the Amazon Echo and apps like FaceTime have enhanced lives and brought with them myriad benefits. Sometimes, though, concerns arise: Are my private conversations being recorded and shared with others? Is Big Brother listening in? Will I completely forget common courtesies such as saying “please” and “thank you”? Parentology asked cybersecurity expert Joseph Steinberg to weigh in on these questions and more.
Are Alexa, Siri and the Echo listening in on conversations?
The answer’s not a simple yes and no. These devices introduce risk, but not the risks everyone is talking about. “Big Brother” is not watching or listening to you.
Amazon’s Alexa, when it’s on, is waiting for a wake-up word. It’s hearing and recording everything, but after a certain point it starts recording over what’s been recorded. While this recording takes place, none of it is sent to Amazon’s servers until a wake-up word is used.
The security world (including myself) is using them. We just turn off the microphone. There are risks, but those risks aren’t that you’re being snooped on.
The main point is you don’t have to panic.
Should the average person be afraid of these devices?
It’s not recommended one be used in the White House. Period. The same goes for people in the public spotlight. But for the average person, there’s nothing to be afraid of, but you need to take some precautions.
What precautions should a family take?
If someone mentions the word Alexa in a conversation, the device will continue to record. It’s possible at times when you’re not talking to Alexa that it will record everything and send it to Amazon. This includes when you’re child is saying something.
Parents should teach their kids what they should and shouldn’t do, such as placing Amazon orders.
There’s a button on the Amazon device that turns off the microphone when the device isn’t in use. It’s a very useful device, though, so some people want it on all the time.
As for devices with cameras, I highly suggest not locating these in areas where you undress, or pointing them toward your bed. Be strategic about where you place them.
Additionally, it’s important to know you can go into Amazon and delete your past recordings. Does that guarantee they’ve been removed from every backup on the Amazon servers? The answer is probably not.
What about the family whose Alexa recorded their conversation and sent it to one of their contacts?
In that case, one of the family members supposedly used the trigger word and it recorded everything. Another incident involved a family’s Alexa being triggered by a TV ad. Their Alexa then recorded everything going on. This is why companies are considering having a second trigger word to make these occurrences less likely.
Amazon said they’d presented warnings a couple times and the family didn’t heed these warnings. A problem with digital warnings is people don’t pay attention to them. We’re conditioned to ignore warnings.
Is there anything else parents should consider?
One issue parents need to think about it is if they need to train their kids to say please and thank you [when using these devices]. There’s no simple answer.
You don’t want kids ordering people around. As the more they use these technologies, their behavior may spill over to interactions with humans. They can think they’re starting to order people around.
It’s etiquette. You want to educate a kid that it’s important to have respect for others.